D.C. Preservation League v. D.C. Dep’t of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs
- Title: D.C. Preservation League v. D.C. Dep’t of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs
- Citation: 646 A.2d 984 (D.C. 1994)
- Decided Date: 22-Aug-94
Petitioner sought review in the D.C. Court of Appeals of the Mayor’s Agent’s decision to issue a demolition permit for the landmark President Monroe apartment building. After the Historic Preservation Review Board had recommended denial of the demolition permit, the Mayor’s Agent approved issuance of the permit on the condition that any future construction on the site “meet the historic preservation standards for the Monroe building including that such structure ... not exceed in height or square footage that of the Monroe building.” Decision of the Mayor’s Agent, HPA No. 92-188 (February 17, 1992). The Mayor’s Agent explained his decision by stating that the building was “clearly unsafe” and noted that “rebuilding from the existing structurally unsafe shell would be more expensive than destroying the shell and rebuilding.” Id. The Court reversed the Mayor’s Agent’s issuance of the permit, holding that he had exceeded his statutory authority in basing his decision on the building’s lack of structural integrity and the high costs of restoration. The Court also held that the Mayor’s Agent lacked the authority to impose a restrictive covenant on the property.
The Court held that proceedings under § 5-1010(b) would be an appropriate response to the violation in this case. That section provides that “Any person who demolishes, alters, or constructs a building or structure in violation of § 5-1004, § 5-1005, or §5-1007 shall be required to restore the building or structure and its site to its appearance prior to the violation. Any action to enforce this subsection shall be brought by the Corporation Counsel. This civil remedy shall be in addition to and not in lieu of any criminal prosecution and penalty.” The Court believed that “proceedings under section 5-1010(b) would achieve, at least in theory, the desired twofold effect of having the Monroe refurbished to the extent possible and requiring [the violator] ... to pay for its restoration.”
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
- The Court held that to be consistent with the purposes of the Act, the demolition of a landmark building must “either ‘retain and enhance historic landmarks in the District of Columbia and ... encourage their adaptation for current use’ or ‘encourage the restoration of historic landmarks.’” (emphasis added)
- The Court held that for proposed demolitions that are alleged to be consistent with the purposes of the Act the “relative cost of refurbishing an existing structure, as opposed to destroying it and building a new structure, is an extraneous factor which the Mayor’s agent may not consider.”
Covenants / Development Agreements / Conservation Easements:
- Because “administrative agencies, unlike courts, have no equitable power to fashion remedies not expressly authorized by statute,” the Court held that the Mayor’s Agent had exceeded his statutory authority in imposing a restrictive covenant on the property.
- In response to DCRA’s argument that the Mayor’s Agent may impose a requirement that any future construction on the site must conform to the physical specifications of the original building, the Court held that there is “nothing in the Preservation Act giving to the Mayor (or her agent) any authority to place such a restriction on future use of the land—except perhaps in connection with projects of special merit, a matter that we need not decide here.”
Although the economic feasibility of protected structure’s renovation is an appropriate consideration in economic hardship and special merit cases, such costs may not be considered to determine whether the demolition of such a structure is consistent with the purposes of the Act.
- The Court held that the “Mayor’s Agent, just like any administrative agency, must operate within the applicable statutory constraints in performing his assigned task.”
- The Court rejected the Mayor’s Agent’s assertion that he must balance various preservation interests in determining whether a demolition of a protected structure is consistent with the purposes of the Act. Starting with “this unauthorized legal premise the Mayor’s agent drew his faulty conclusion to grant ... the demolition permit.” According to the Court, there “is nothing in the Preservation Act that allows the Mayor’s Agent to engage in a balancing of interests which takes into account such factors as the cost of refurbishing the dilapidated structure and the threat it poses to the safety and welfare of the community.” Rather, “the limited task of the Mayor’s agent is to evaluate a demolition application in accordance with the Preservation Act, and nothing more.”
- The Court noted that “the Mayor’s agent under the Preservation Act has no authority to order the demolition of a historic landmark in the interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the community.” Although “such factors are of unquestionable public importance, there is no statutory basis for the Mayor’s agent appointed under the Preservation Act to consider them.”
- The Court held that the Mayor’s Agent has no statutory authority to impose a restrictive covenant on a property as a condition of permit issuance. Because “the Preservation Act contains no language authorizing the Mayor (or her agent) to limit the future use of a site once occupied by a historic landmark ... the Mayor’s Agent exceeded his authority in doing so in this case.”
Standard of Review:
Citing Committee of 100 on the Federal City v. DCRA, 571 A.2d 195, 199 (D.C. 1990), the Court described the standard of judicial review employed when hearing a challenge to a decision of the Mayor’s Agent: “To uphold an order issued by the Mayor’s agent under the Preservation Act, we must determine that the agent’s written factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and that his legal conclusions flow rationally from those findings.”
Files in this item
- Full Text of Decision.pdf
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